The role of schools in promoting emotional wellbeing and preventing mental health problems among children is to be investigated as part of a new inquiry being led by two groups of MPs.
The inquiry comes at a time of an “undoubted increase” in the number of children and young people with mental health issues, which is described as “extremely alarming” by those leading the work.
“The undoubted increase in the number of children suffering from mental health issues is extremely alarming”
The Commons’ education and health select committees will look at how far professionals who work in schools are able to support pupils, as well as the extent to which cyber bullying and peer pressure from social media and the internet are contributing to children’s mental health problems.
However, the inquiry by MPs comes at a time when local authority budgets for public health are being cut and school nursing posts are at risk.
Last month at Unite’s Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association annual conference, nurses spoke of the “crucial” role they played in detecting mental health issues among children, while warning of the cuts to services that threatened their jobs.
Meanwhile, in recent months there has been an increasing focus on the potential negative impact of technology on children’s health and how school nurses can help to identify these issues at an early stage.
A recent study by researchers in Belgium that looked at the use of sexting – sharing self-made sexually explicit photographs – through social media and the pressure from peers to do so noted the importance of healthcare professionals discussing safe practices with teenagers.
Additionally, in September, for the first time the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidance to help practitioners support children and young people who displayed harmful sexual behavior. It identified the need for further research into the impact that electronic media had on sexual behaviour, including sexting.
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Academics have noted that the practice of sexting appears to be on the increase and have linked it to depression among young people and, in extreme cases, suicide.
The committees leading the inquiry are calling for written submissions until 20 January about the promotion of emotional wellbeing, the support available for young people with mental health problems, how to build skills for professionals, and the role of social media in child wellbeing.
Launching the inquiry, education committee chair Neil Carmichael MP, said: “The undoubted increase in the number of children and young people suffering from mental health issues is extremely alarming.
“Schools play an integral role in building the resilience of young people”
“Children are not able to access the services and get the help they need at an early stage,” he said. “Some only receive support from under pressure mental health services once their condition has worsened.”
“Schools and colleges have a key part to play in tackling this problem and the committee will examine what their role should be,” he added.
Children’s mental health charity YoungMinds welcomed the inquiry and said it hoped it would lead to a “real change in the prominence given to wellbeing within schools”.
“Young people tell us about the huge range of pressures that they face, from stress at school to exam pressures, body image worries, bullying and around-the-clock social media,” said chief executive Sarah Brennan.
“These pressures can take their toll on the mental health of young people with wider impacts on their education and wellbeing,” she said.
“Schools play an integral role in building the resilience of young people against these pressures. If help is available when problems first emerge, we can prevent young people reaching crisis point,” she added.